Most bosses spend their first three months quietly getting themselves settled in. Not Olof Persson, the Volvo Group’s energetic new chief executive, who has embarked on the company’s most radical organizational shake up for a decade.
Global News: Your first 100 days have been characterized by sweeping changes to the Group’s structure. Why have you moved so fast?
Olof Persson: Although I officially took over as Chief Executive on 1st September I have been concentrating on this role since May, when I became deputy CEO. I spent that interim period travelling around the Group, visited facilities that I’d not seen during my five previous years at the Volvo Group, and speaking with a whole lot of new people. This process not only helped fill gaps in my knowledge about the Group, the discussions also acted as a valuable sounding board for my ideas. So by 1st September, when I officially took over, I already had my plans for moving the company forward in place and was ready to go.
Having travelled around the Volvo Group – what is your view of the company as a whole?
OP: I always believed that the Volvo Group was a company filled with an enormous amount of talented and committed people. My travels and conversations have confirmed this view. I have been surprised by the number of good initiatives – and by the level of enthusiasm and engagement I have seen during my visits. Our big strength is, of course, the Volvo culture, which is well aligned throughout the company. This, and the ‘Volvo Way’ philosophy, is a universal foundation for how we work, how we treat customers and each other.
Volvo is respected worldwide for its stability – why are the radical organizational changes you are implementing needed?
OP: We are a stable company – but change still happens in stable companies. For example the Volvo Group today is fundamentally different to the one of a decade ago. The last 10 years have seen us add new brands, new geographies, new factories, new acquisitions – and lots of excellent new people. This all adds up to tremendous change. Now it is simply the turn of the organizational structure to be modernized. The current structure has done a great job of positioning Volvo as leaders in our respective fields. Now we are moving into a new phase of our development, one where we take advantage of all that growth by maximizing economies of scale and leveraging synergies and best practices. That requires a new organizational structure.
What have you enjoyed most during your first 100 days?
OP: Without doubt it has been the great interaction with my colleagues. I have really enjoyed the energy in the new organization – there is a good deal of optimism and commitment to make the new-look business a success. This has energized me in turn! I have also really enjoyed understanding the company as a whole, as well as being able to test my ideas – and to have my better ones implemented and executed.
What’s the worst bit?
OP: Suddenly becoming a public person, (who at least feels) to be permanently on show takes some getting used to. The level of travel involved is higher even than I have known in the past, and while I enjoy travel, I do miss my time with my family.
Why are you contemplating selling Aero? As its ex-president, this must have been a tough decision?
OP: Almost the Volvo Group’s entire focus is on commercial vehicles and commercial engines. It’s important that Aero can continue in an environment that is fruitful to its development. Is that within the Volvo Group? Perhaps. But to make the right decision we are talking to other companies to determine the best way forward for Aero.
BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has been proposed as the new Volvo Group Chairman. What are your views?
OP: The decision on who will be our next Chairman will be made by Volvo’s General Meeting next spring. But on the few occasions that I’ve met Carl-Henric I’ve been left with a good impression. He has excellent experience of international business and I feel confident that he would make a valuable contribution to the growth of the Volvo Group.
Have your family got used to your new-found celebrity status?!
OP: The whole experience is actually rather humbling and I’m not sure you ever get completely used to it. It’s not easy for my children to see their father in the newspapers and they will take time to adjust. We discussed it as a family before I took the position, and we are trying to get used to it – and even enjoy it!